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Mol Microbiol. 2014 Aug;93(3):494-504. doi: 10.1111/mmi.12673. Epub 2014 Jul 9.

A conserved type IV pilin signal peptide H-domain is critical for the post-translational regulation of flagella-dependent motility.

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Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.


In many bacteria and archaea, type IV pili facilitate surface adhesion, the initial step in biofilm formation. Haloferax volcanii has a specific set of adhesion pilins (PilA1-A6) that, although diverse, contain an absolutely conserved signal peptide hydrophobic (H) domain. Data presented here demonstrate that these pilins (PilA1-A6) also play an important role in regulating flagella-dependent motility, which allows cells to rapidly transition between planktonic and sessile states. Cells lacking adhesion pilins exhibit a severe motility defect, however, expression of any one of the adhesion pilins in trans can rescue the motility and adhesion. Conversely, while deleting pilB3-C3, genes required for PilA pilus biosynthesis, results in cells lacking pili and having an adhesion defect, it does not affect motility, indicating that motility regulation requires the presence of pilins, but not assembled pili. Mutagenesis studies revealed that the pilin-dependent motility regulatory mechanism does not require the diverse C-terminal region of the PilA pilins but specifically involves the conserved H-domain. This novel post-translational regulatory mechanism, which employs components that promote biofilm formation to inhibit motility, can provide a rapid response to changing environmental conditions. A model for this regulatory mechanism, which may also be present in other prokaryotes, is discussed.

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